Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies

Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies

Summary: The inventor of the ebook passed away this week, but his legacy is alive and well as millions enjoy ebooks on their mobile devices every single day.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware

I grew up as an avid reader and would often be found with my nose in a compelling fantasy book rather than going out to the movies with my friends. In recent years, I have turned to ebooks as my source to continue my passion for reading and I owe a lot of thanks to Project Gutenberg founder and ebook inventor Michael S. Hart for his lifelong work. Mr. Hart passed away this week at the young age of just 64 after inventing the ebook back in 1971.

His obituary is posted on the Project Gutenberg website and here are some excerpts that I found of particular interest.

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: "One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job."

I love that last quote Michael made just last month and never really thought much about the fact that you truly can get as much as you want and can never read all the ebooks that are available. I have hundreds of ebooks waiting to be read on my Kobo eReader Touch Edition and have Michael to thank in large part for making this a reality. I pray that Michael's family is comforted during this time and that we continue his legacy to help all of the world seek and enjoy literature.

In honor of Michael's death, I encourage you to share the Project Gutenberg website with others where they can discover over 36,000 free ebooks to read and enjoy for years to come.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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  • 1971 E-Books?

    Other than recalling the pad the pretty Yeoman on Star Trek carried and always had Capt Kirk reading and signing it, <br><br>I'm having a hard time conceptualizing E-Books during 1971. <br><br>Perhaps, it would be better to cite him for inventing and publishing the first e-Text, which ultimately evolved into the e-Books.
  • ebook - 1971 - not exactly

    Not really "ebook" in 1971. I think the modern interpretation of eBook is the pairing of a book-like reading device with the electronic content.

    In 1971 he came up with the idea of storing books in electronic form for the purpose of using them electronically to read (from a screen), but there was obviously no reader at the time. Most people would not consider that an ebook.

    Furthermore, I am pretty sure publishers were already storing books in electronic form, albeit for the purpose of editing and publishing and not for reading. So I would suspect the idea of keeping digital versions wasn't all that innovative either.

    But he did have a vision of making a digital repository, and for that he was ahead of his time. In my neighborhood they built this monster building to house a library and I remember thinking how silly it was to spend millions when every volume in that building could have been stored digitally in a few server racks. We have a ways to go to fulfill his vision.
    • RE: Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies


      Basically, there are many formats to ebooks, there are many different devices (and reader software) that you can use to consume the content. An early version (Circa 1968) is the Dynabook ( You can use a dedicated device (such as an Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook) or a tablet/laptop/desktop with some reader software (Kindle, Nook, etc.).
  • RE: Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies

    I just got a $ 830
    TouchPad for only $ 104.38 and my mom got a $ 1500 HD-TV for only $ 252.93, they
    are both coming with FedEx tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full
    retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 38" HDTV to my
    boss for $ 600 that I only paid $ 79.22 for. I use
  • what a shame....

    ... that the comments on the passing of a pioneer tend to crabby narrow geekoid whines over vocabulary and trivia. Grow up. We've lost someone here that has made a difference.
    • RE: Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies


      That's exactly the problem. Everything is "epic" or "pioneering" or "innovative" without putting anything into context.

      It's like calling anyone who kills two people a serial killer when in fact it's nowhere near the same as what Ted Bundy did.

      Yes Michael Hart had a unique vision of the future and devoted his life to bring it into being. We are all better for it, but trying to put it into context isn't something that requires "growing up".
  • RE: Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies

    I wasn't into reading from the Project Gutenberg library until a decade after Micheal Hart started it and it was credited to the Benedictine Monks in Illinois. I didn't have a PC until then.
    Without such a start we probably wouldn't have the eBooks available today. I am looking forward to getting an eBook reader so that I can read some more from my easy chair rather than sitting at the computer table. I still have the file I downloaded from the project on my hard drive, just for a reminder of a great thought.
  • I don't mean to be unkind, but... does one "invent" something that's implicit in displaying a text file on a screen?

    Those reading Project Gutenberg books should be aware that some -- such as Melville's "White-Jacket" -- are bowdlerized. This appears to be the fault of those submitting them, not the fault of PG's "management".
    • RE: Project Gutenberg founder and inventor of the ebook, Michael Hart, dies


      Open source systems aggregate the most commonplace works in circulation. Sadly these are also the hacked and often abridged versions that are mass-produced to make the content accessible to the lowest common denominator.

      Some even come with coloured crayons...

      ' does one "invent" something that's implicit in displaying a text file on a screen?'
      Tell this to Apple, Google, Samsung etc, who appear to have found a huge revenue stream in suing each other over exactly that concept...
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